* * *
When Griel and Maira emerged from the Tilminel Mountains in the north, they found the lower hills covered with new forest growth that stretched as far as the eye could see. They soared above it, both staring in wonder.
“Look what our Great Mother has done!” Maira shouted, and Griel could only answer with a deep roar of joy that made the young treetops bow their heads.
There was no trace of the uneasy hum that had permeated this earth. Instead, a force like a melody rose from the ground up through the trees, bathing them with soft vitality, speeding them on their way. Griel filled his heart with the Forest’s song and hurried south to join Zaghran and Sulinor.
Peldanir, the Sorcerers, and the Varzil had been busy while they were gone: all the wreckage of the Nurain ships was now organized in a wide ring on a grassy plain. In the center of the ring, the Varzil were building a scaffolding upon which a large ship could be assembled. Griel landed near the scaffolding, and all his children joined him, trumpeting their welcome. Peldanir and Erdan the Sorcerer were nearby, examining a large drawing with Zaghran, Sulinor, Jal, Aubele, and Madan. Griel saw that Malen, Lourlan, Crigh, and Varul were among them. Shaila Pearl and Marlagh, Crigh’s wife, were tending a great cauldron that held a thick, bubbling substance.
Sulinor saw Griel and Maira first.
“Ah, you’ve returned,” she said, smiling at them.
“You have accomplished much since we departed,” Griel told her, bobbing his great head. “The world seems almost as it was when we were all children. No trace remains of the Nurain’s abomination.”
“No trace except our memories,” Sulinor said. “Come and see how we fare with the building of the ship, and tell us what you discovered about the hidden door.”
They joined the others and listened to Peldanir.
“…strange machines that are powered by a type of fire,” he was saying. “The Nurain have somehow managed to manipulate the flow of fire into currents. These currents feed all their machines at once. With a mere command to one of these membranes, you see, they control the activity of some or all the machines, and thus the ships, as they choose. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“We are learning a great deal,” Erdan said. “The fire lore of the Nurain seems quite intricate and elegant at first glance, but the more I study it, I see it’s more complicated than it needs to be. They don’t seem to cooperate with Fire at all, but instead only control it by force.”
“Interesting,” Madan commented. “So if we can use our own bond with our native element, we might be able to achieve a similar kind of communication with the ship we build? Is that what you’re saying, Erdan?”
Erdan’s eyes were alight. “That’s what I’m saying. And ours will be simpler and work more directly. There will be no need to store the energy to power the vessel as the Nurain do, because we won’t be forcing the fire to do something against its will or nature.”
“The materials that form the Nurain ship are false,” Malen said. “They are very sturdy, as one would expect. But there is no life in them, as Crigh can tell you. But my new friends Madan and Erdan are creating a kind of glass that will be both flexible and as strong as this strange Nurain material. I reckon Crigh and I will use it as a skin to cover the frame of our ship, which we’ll make from good sturdy trees.”
“Aubele, Malen and I have been consulting with Peldanir and the Sorcerers, too,” Jal told them. “We are working on this design here, see?” He indicated the large drawing spread on the ground at their feet. “It will be large inside, but it must be shaped in a way that allows it to fly at great speed. We’ll use the lore of both water and air to achieve this.”
“It looks like a great whale,” Griel observed. “Or a dragon with no neck or wings.”
“This is excellent work,” Sulinor said. “Maira, Griel, what did you learn about the hidden door?”
“It is beneath the mountains in a deep cave,” Maira said. “If the Nurain work against the elements as you say, that could be why they never used that door. They wouldn’t be able to pass their ships through rock and mountain. That won’t be a problem for us, however.” She grinned.
“The space that lies beyond the door resembles the vibration of the Nurain prisons,” Griel went on, “but only faintly. It is also something different. I entered it briefly to test it, and it seemed the space there, while empty, reflected my own energy, or mimicked it. It appeared to mold itself to what I required to exist there. And I returned, as you can see, without harm.”
“I see,” Zaghran said, his form glittering suddenly. “Can it be, then, that the space between the worlds is alive? Or, at least, responds to the intent of living? It sounds like the energy that animates all forms.”
“It sounds like it is what you are, my love,” Sulinor laughed. “That is also very good news, something that will assist us in our building. And I have one more thing.”
She held out Findol’s stone for them to see. Lourlan’s face lit up.
“Our Heritage Stone,” she said. “It carries all the generations of our family, even back to you, Sulinor and Zaghran. How will it help?”
“It also carries the record of Findol’s magic awakening, and the parts Coanh and Varala had in that, too, in addition to your lineage,” Sulinor said. “It is a record of everything that happened since you gave it to Findol. And with the help of Varul Storyteller and the Sorcerers, we can make the stone the heart of the ship, so that it will know itself and its people and where its home is. It can be a kind of compass that carries the story of Vael everywhere it goes. With this, our ship will never be lost.”
All eyes were on her, full of wonder.
“We’re not just building a ship, then,” Peldanir observed.
“No, we aren’t,” Sulinor agreed. “It won’t be a machine like the Nurain ships. You will all use your various wisdom to build a form that can travel between worlds. And when it is done, Zaghran and I will give it life. We are bringing a new creature into being, all of us. And this, our youngest child, will bring his kin home.”
They were all silent, absorbing this. Griel watched their faces as anticipation for the task at hand moved through them all. He knew they would succeed, and something splendid and altogether unique would be born.
He met Sulinor’s eyes, and she smiled. He knew, as she did, that Vael was changing, evolving. It seemed no one else realized that, not yet. But he would keep his silence about this now, and so would she. The others would understand when they were ready.
Findol, Varala, and Coanh would come home presently. That was good, and it was enough for now.